Beyond Patriarchy: An Unexpected Encounter

I’ve sat with this question for a long time now: what is beyond patriarchy? To be honest, some days, I can’t see beyond it. I can’t imagine. The ocean of it that we swim in is so deep, and dense, and the currents so strong that to pit myself against it, one vulnerable body weighted by marginalized identities—Black, female-bodied, queer—seems entirely futile. What could this one do against centuries of a system that has managed to make humanity subjugate more than half of its own being? Patriarchy has done this in the name of male dominance, of the justification of breeding aggression, analysis, and judgment as the foundations for decision-making, competition, and fear as the means of control. We are taught this, and we are told that this is our history. I believe this to be true. This has been the HISstory of humanity, but it is not the whole story.

In my own non-binary existence, his or hers fails to tell mine fully. If I am to speak of seeing oneself as a complex unity, of seeing oneself as a microcosm of the total story of the universe, of what lives beyond the categorical, then I must get away from HISstory and HERstory and get into THISstory: this story that the Earth is telling itself through us, this story that the Earth is telling the Universe through us, and vice versa. THISstory lives at the queer intersection of HISstory and HERstory. One story. Non-gendered. Queer. Abiding. And as I thought about what is beyond patriarchy I realized I must answer it with a thread of THISstory that I’ve lived that allows me to see what lives beyond patriarchy.

This episode of THISstory takes place in a store. It is the day after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has been made to testify to her own credibility as a survivor of sexual predation by Brett Kavanaugh, a New Age good ole boy seeking a seat on the Supreme Court. I am the only Black person in this store in a neighborhood that is predominantly White and wealthy, in a city that is becoming increasingly gentrified and defined by Whiteness and material wealth—pillars of this country’s patriarchy. I am in distress. My Black, queer, female body that has also survived sexual predation is mourning and grieving in public; inappropriate to business as usual. In this state I approach the register with my groceries and my tears. The cashier, a middle-aged white man I am guessing to be both cis and hetero, sees me and asks if I am okay. His hand is on my groceries, but he has not made a move to do anything with them because in this moment what is more important is the answer to the question of whether or not I am okay. I know this because I can feel his concern on the breeze coming through the window of welcome he has opened to see me more clearly. My eyes rise to meet his and although everything that was already happening will continue to be true, in that moment, I can say, honestly “I am, I just got some bad news.”

My body is shaking, and I ask him if I can pull a paper towel sheet from the roll at the unoccupied register next to his. He says, “Of course,” and I do. As I do the next customer in line—male, older, White, who I am also guessing to be cis and hetero- comes closer. He approaches me with not quite hesitancy, but with an awareness that I might not want him to. I turn to meet his approach, and he repeats the question, “Are you okay?” And again, I am able to say, “Yes, I just got some bad news.” He looks at me, my piercings, the coloring of my hair and my nails and my skin, and my black hoodie declaring that I am “Straight Outta Oakland”. He reaches for me and places his hand on my shoulder, tenderly, and says “And with whatever it is, with the way that things are going in this country right now…” He is unable to finish the sentence as he is now on the edge of falling into tears, but I understand.

His head drops, and I reach my hand across my heart to rest it on his. He lifts his head and pulls me into a huge bear hug. And we stand there, in this store, grieving and sorrowful and connected. The cashier gives his permission, holds this sacred space. I can feel the permission wafting over the counter, I can feel it in his waiting, because he is done ringing me up and he is not rushing us. He is witnessing us.

I hug the other customer back and thank him. He pulls away to look me in the eyes and tell me, “Take care of yourself.” We do that thing people do when we feel weak: we hold each other up, hands to shoulders, shaking slightly, affirming our sense of belonging to one another as part of Earth’s humanity, of THISstory. The cashier continues to witness, and we are able to stand, in our vulnerability, in our fear, in the love that lives underneath it, in our empathy, in the knowingness that we are accountable to each other for Reality. And we keep each other there until we are ready to move on with our respective days, our respective lives. His eyes are awash and mine are overflowing but I am ready now, to finish the transaction, to continue to move beyond what had momentarily engulfed me.

This is what’s beyond patriarchy. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Informed compassion. Our minds and actions applied and aligned to the will of our hearts and not the other way around. It is not a theory or an argument, it is an experience. It is something to be lived, something to be shared, something to be discovered as it is happening. It is Life not being controlled or conformed to fit into the boxes our minds have been accultured to create. It is his tenderness and me taking up space in public. It is queer. It is blurring the lines in the sand, understanding they are part of a shore and it is their nature to be washed away. It is responding to what is alive in the moment and doing what you can no matter who it is for.

And, fortunately for us, we do not need to wait to discover what lives beyond patriarchy: this is what is already living inside of it, waiting to be given welcome to emerge from the constraints within like the potential energy within a seed. It is discovering what comes out of what has been. It is the wisdom and the lessons learned from our intimacy with patriarchy. It is understanding cycles and that this one is coming to an end. Not only because of the harm that has been visited but because it is the way of things.

We will mourn it. It is familiar, and it has been home for so many of us. It has been part of being human. Whatever exists after the expiration of patriarchy, if it is truly an evolution, it will carry the lessons that we have learned. Just as how matriarchy, although no longer coordinates business as usual, the men in this story still knew the value of its principles as manifested through their actions. The emotional instinct has not departed. Patriarchy will not disappear, it will be transformed, composted, become something to nourish and inform. It is how every seed grows.

I do not share this story for it be analyzed. I share it to help you find the thread of it in your own life. Take the seed challenge: do not try to get beyond patriarchy, get into it. Not in the sense of picking up its mantle, we’ve already learned too much that way, in the way of understanding it, learning its lessons so that they can be broken down to what is essential. Take what can be repurposed, and do so, build from there. Build enough energy, complexity and integrity to break out of what constrains our full potential to realize what it can mean to be human. Build a reality that values the wholeness of the human story: the cognitive and the creative, the competition and the collaboration, the categorically masculine and feminine, because all of these are part of what it means to be fully alive.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Tikkun. Want to read other articles from that issue? Consider making a tax-deductible donation to Tikkun – all donations of $50 or more include a free subscription to the magazine! Or you can click here to subscribe or to purchase single issues.


One thought on “Beyond Patriarchy: An Unexpected Encounter

  1. Jihan McDonald, you sound like a person I can talk to about an issue that most folks are not comfortable talking about. I am empathic and sensitive, some would say overly so.

    I am also tall, white, healthy and “European Looking” whatever that means. Starting in the late 60’s I was assumed to be a “male chauvinist” by most women. The best illustration I can give is that one day in San Francisco I opened a heavy 20 foot tall door at a bank entrance for a 30-something woman. She scowled and as she passed by me she drove her elbow into my stomach so hard is knocked the wind out of me. As she did so her very angry voice screamed “pig!”

    In recent years I seem to have evolved into what many women now call “highly masculinized” men, as in “I really like men. I just don’t like highly-masculinized patriarchal men.” Sadly we live in a world today where male men are not welcome in the caring professions—nursing and human rights for example—and are expected to be athletes, politians, and business and construction workers.